Hollywood life consumes mass quantities of time for 'Coneheads' star Jane Curtin

July 05, 1993|By Jane Wollman Rusoff

An overbooked calendar has made Jane Curtin a bit giddy with fatigue. Here in her digs at the posh Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, she giggles. She jokes. She chain-smokes Vantages. Squinty-eyed, she complains that the grass pollen out here makes her eyes water. She warns me that she's just short of nodding out.

Ms. Curtin is in from New York to do post-production work on "Coneheads," the film version of the popular "Saturday Night Live" TV sketches, which premieres July 23. Co-starring with Dan Aykroyd, she is reprising her role as Beldar Conehead's wife Prymaat.

The Coneheads, they of the elongated foreheads, who unwittingly landed here from another planet, must blend in with suburban America. The alien family settles in Paramus, N.J.

Today Ms. Curtin recorded some additional dialogue for the movie. Actually, she says, it was vast quantities of "breaths and grunts and many screams."

Ms. Curtin, 45, is dressed in pants, shirt and vest, with horn-rimmed glasses perched on her head.

At 5-foot-5, the two-time Emmy-award winning actress (for her role in "Kate and Allie") seems smaller than she appears on TV, but her big grin is identical. Despite, or because of, lack of sleep, she is spontaneously witty.

Explaining all those grunts and screams, she says: "I was running and giving birth [to Connie Conehead] and escaping all in the same day, so it was exhausting."

The film relates the entire Conehead story.

"This is a lifetime in just a brief moment of celluloid," Ms. Curtin says, deadpan.

The former "Saturday Night Live" Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Player is, it seems, a real no-nonsense type. "I have a very low tolerance for bull," she offers. "A sense of humor is important, but so is a sense of right and wrong."

Is there anything she'd care to change about herself? "I'd like my bangs to be a little shorter, but otherwise, I'm very happy," she says lightly, not fatigued enough to let down her comical guard.

Safer to talk about movies: It's tough being a Conehead, she admits. The film took 3 1/2 months to shoot, and she had to wear her tall latex head-cone up to 12 hours a day. "They glue it to your hair and skin. It hurts," she says.

Worse: "You have no social life when you're a Cone. You truly commit. You can't just pop in the car and do errands at lunch."

The L.A. shooting schedule required Ms. Curtin, who lives in New York, to be away from husband Patrick Lynch, a TV producer, and daughter Tess, 10, virtually the whole time.

"It was a long, lonely process," she says.

"My [off] time was consumed with figuring out where I was going to do my laundry. So I hung out in friends' houses and did it in some of the best neighborhoods in town. My socks have been everywhere."

How did it feel doing Prymaat after 14 years?

"I actually had to watch Danny to re-learn it," Ms. Curtin says. "Danny's Conehead voice was just so refined -- he'd done his homework. So I primarily followed his lead. But I still sound like nails on a blackboard. I just have the shrillest voice as Prymaat."

This is Ms. Curtin's third feature -- surely her biggest to date.

1980 she starred in "How to Beat the High Cost of Living" and seven years ago appeared in "O.C. & Stiggs."

Her last TV series was the short-lived 1990 sitcom, "Working It Out." On why the show didn't, she says: "It wasn't funny, and it should have been. There were times in production when I realized that; but I signed on to do someone's vision and I wasn't going to pull a number or try to change it. . . ." The series' demise after one season wasn't devastating: "You try something, and if it doesn't work, you move on," says Ms. Curtin evenly.

For the "Coneheads" shoot, she was put up at the glamorous Bel-Air, but the East Coaster has no yen to make the Hollywood scene permanent.

"I don't like being surrounded by the business," she says. "The business is gossip. It's so tight, so close here. I find it difficult to listen to business all the time. It's like watching daytime television: You've got the talk shows, with the horror stories about what's going on over in this and that studio. Then you've got the soap operas. . . ."

In 1975 "Saturday Night Live" cast Ms. Curtin as one of its original Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players to, she recalls, represent the WASP set.

The live program was, as she puts it, "a challenge."

"We were never totally prepared -- but that made it all the more exciting. I thrived on that. I loved, 'Are we going to pull this off?' and 'Can I make the [costume] change in a minute and a half while running across [studio] 8-H?' "

Of "SNL" co-star the late Gilda Radner, with whom Ms. Curtin was friends, she recalls: "She was wonderfully talented. At the same time, she was sad and lonely. Gilda wanted to have a life, a family. But had she had one, maybe she wouldn't have been so funny on the show."

Jane Therese Curtin, born in Cambridge, Mass., dropped out of college to join a comedy improv group at age 21.

After that, she was never without work.

"I wasn't well off, but I could pay the rent," she says, "and that's basically what it was all about: It was a fun way to make a living."

What's next for Ms. Curtin? "I've never known what's next. It's more fun finding out what other people want me to play -- to get the phone call saying, 'Want to do this?' There is nothing I have ever longed to do in this business, except," she says, "just see what happens. I don't plan it."

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